October 01, 1991

Tu Tu Much

Tu Tu Wha
Australian Dance Theatre
Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
September, 1991.

“Tu Tu Wha implores us to examine why there is a separation of intuition from the intellect and to ask is technology our slave or are we slaves to it? To re-acquaint ourselves with an ancient and familiar paradigm of the world as an intricate organic net or interaction.”

There you have it in the proverbial nutshell. ADT’s latest venture is nothing if not ambitious – The History of the World, Parts One and Two. Artistic director Leigh Warren and his designer Tony Westwood have put together a work using dance and text to show how it all went wrong. It was that jolly Cartesian Newtonian paradigm that did it. And if that’s a touch too abstract to get your haircut around, they take a for instance : Marie Antoinette, fashion victim and victim of history. You recall her? Louis’ girl, milkmaid outfits, the cake lady, heady icon of decapitalism.

In the program notes, Leigh Warren offers this startling observation: “She was (like most contemporary art) put on trial, not for being guilty of particular crimes of which she is accused but rather for what she represented – an entire social class, its politics and its psyche.” I’m not sure how most contemporary art got linked up with a Bourbon but Tu Tu Wha is certainly guilty of something fairly generic.

The problem is that ADT asks to be taken seriously for insights that verge on the brainless. The analogy between the excessive Eighties (and let’s not . forget about the Nineties either) and the French court is worth exploring but it is a dubious comparison – and if it means that Marie Antoinette is somehow absolved, it is perverse. For instance, it may be an oversimplification to blame the troubles of the Phillipines on Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection, but it’s still a good place to start- precisely because she does represent an entire class.

Tu Tu Wha is cluttered with unexamined and unresolved material. Guided by the Fairy Guru, played with an excruciating attempt at comedy by Lisa Heaven, we are taken through the Versailles mirrors to the guileless life at court. Warren’s choreography, has a courtly symmetry, pleasingly counterpointed by John Adams’ music. In fact the choice of music – Michael Nyman, Gluck, even Freddy Mercury – is smart and the company’s dance work is lithe and attractively clear, which only highlights the lumpiness of the text and its lamentable delivery by dancers who are clearly not actors: If ADT is looking to be judged in theatrical terms they need better production values than these.

Tony Westwood’s decor and costume only add to the sense of meretricious excess. Vertical constructions transmogrify as mirrors, sections of The Infernal Machine, Stonehenge has a cameo role, so do some Pink Floyd hammers. Meanwhile the dancers are fetishised -the women in red camisoles and men backless in black. As TuTu and Wha, Aidan Munn and Paul O’Sullivan manage to dance creditably in white tutus with matching Big Bird leggings. Their role in the theme of things is unclear. Even after consulting the program notes: Tu-tu : dance costume from the 16th century; Wha (wait for it)= Roi, as in Jarry’s Ubu Roi.

Straining to be helpful the program notes also gloss images and symbols used in the work- “Ladder could be interpreted as a means by which one climbs to a higher level of understanding/Social climbing,Jacob’s Ladder. Rocket – Male phallic symbol/ Omnipotent sexuality. I as a destructive force/Destructive element; Giraffe – Nature. Surrealist symbol of Salvador Dali burning giraffes/In our drive to contain it we forget and eliminate it; The Humpty Dumpty comprehending the ramifications, or knowing what will be needed to replace what existed.”

There is one more they forgot to mention – The Dumpty Humpty Syndrome. When one has put something together without even bothering to comprehend its elements, or given any thought to what kind of dog’s breakfast you’ll end up with.

“Tu Tu Much”, The Adelaide Review, No.93, October, 1991, p.41.

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